Nolite te rejection carborundum!

By | April 13, 2011

It’s hard to know how to start this post. I could say that rejection is part of the publication process (which is true), or that it can make you a better writer (also true). But right now, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you didn’t get into Alpha, and that it hurts a bit. So if you’re one of those people, you have my sympathy.

So. What are you going to do next? Here are some ideas:

Look at your application story. While it is not the worst thing ever written (that would be “The Eye of Argon”), chances are that it could use some improvement… most stories can, after all.

Does your protagonist make interesting choices? Does your villain have motivations for his or her actions, or is s/he just evil for the sake of being evil? Are your grammar and punctuation solid? Is your setting vivid and original, or does it look a bit too much like (for example) Middle Earth? Does your plot make sense, with one event leading naturally into the next?

These are hard questions to ask yourself, I know. But there’s nothing quite like the feeling of taking a story that wasn’t holding together and making it work. It means you’re getting better.

Write another story. Then another. Every time you write a new story, you’re taking all the experience you gained from the stories you wrote before, and applying it to making the new story even better. You’ll still make mistakes, but hopefully they’ll be new and different mistakes, and you’ll learn from those, and so on. As with most skills worth learning, all the advice in the world, while very useful, can’t substitute for just sitting down and doing it.

Read short stories that are being professionally published. Lots of SF magazines make their stories available for free online. Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld,, and Fantasy are great places to start. Reading successful stories is a great way to learn about plot, character, setting, structure, theme… you name it. If something about a story you read doesn’t work for you, try to figure out why, and then learn from that, too.

Naturally, you don’t have to do any or all of these things right away. But if you at least do them eventually, you’re taking a huge step forward. Don’t let your rejection get you down. Make it work for you, and make your writing stronger.

Okay, I’ve talked enough. You tell me: when you face writing-related rejection (whether from Alpha or otherwise), what do you do?

P.S. If you don’t know what the title means, check out The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

3 thoughts on “Nolite te rejection carborundum!

  1. Catherine Krahe

    I’d like to pull up a comment from Jenna on our Hooking the Reader post:

    Congratz to all, not just the people who were accepted, but EVERYBODY who applied. I mean, we all wrote application stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end (which is no small feat); we sent them in on time; and went through an agonizingly long waiting period. So, whatever happens, just know, WE DID IT!

    My first rejection– for the first short story I ever wrote, which happened basically immediately after I realized they could be published and how to go about it– was a copy of the magazine’s guidelines with a single highlighted line. So was my second, though that had a different line highlighted. Eventually, I graduated to actual rejections.

  2. Meghan

    This was my first rejection, and- even though I fantasized about Alpha day in and day out, and wrote down the days I would (hopefully) be attending the workshop on EVERY calander I own- to be honest, my reaction to the rejection letter surprized me. I’ll admit it, I teared up a bit…but I feel like I’ve been given a challenge.
    I immediately went back to my story and forced myself to read it again (prompting many strange glances from my mother as I grumbled to myself and slammed my hand into my face at the discovery of many blatant mistakes),I make myself write something every day, and I have added short stories to my summer reading list.
    With every book I read, I can feel the urge to write grow inside of me. Words echo in my head as characters press against my skull and landscapes flicker in my vision, impatiently waiting for me to share their stories with the world. Something so spectacular can only be described as the call of a writer- an urge so strong it cannot be ignored.

    I see this rejection as a second chance; a slap to the face from a gauntlet-clothed hand, voicing a challenge I simply cannot, and WILL NOT leave unanswered. 😉

  3. Noella

    I feel the same way Meghan, although I haven’t really had the time to go back and revise my story. Giving up would be giving in.

    Which is why rejection is only the catalyst the process of becoming a good writer.

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